AAP MP Sanjay Singh’s arrest by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with the multi-crore rupee Delhi Excise Policy scam has come as the second blow in as many weeks to the young party headed by Arvind Kejriwal ahead of the November-December Assembly elections and the general elections next year.
Apart from denting Kejriwal’s image as an anti-corruption crusader, the episode has also given his rivals a handle to target the AAP.
Last week, the CBI had launched a preliminary inquiry into alleged lapses in the spending of Rs 45 crore in the reconstruction of Kejriwal’s official residence in Civil Lines area in north Delhi.
Singh, who was taken into custody after 10 hours of questioning, is accused of seeking favours, including party fund donations, of about Rs 100 crore from liquor barons from southern states in exchange for getting the city’s excise policy tweaked—through Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia—in their companies’ favour.
Singh is the third prominent AAP minister or MP to be arrested under corruption charges. Sisodia has been in judicial custody since his arrest on 26 February in the excise policy case. Earlier, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain was also arrested on 30 May last year in connection with a money laundering case. At present, he is out on bail over health grounds. More than half of the AAP’s 62 legislators in Delhi Assembly are believed to be facing serious criminal cases.
The arrest sparked city-wide protests by the ruling AAP whose workers also tried to storm the Delhi BJP office in protest against the alleged victimisation of party leaders.
Though Kejriwal has claimed that the AAP and his colleagues would emerge clean from the controversies, investigations into the two major corruption cases related to Delhi have pitted the ruling AAP against the central probe agencies and, indirectly, the BJP-led Union government. While protesting AAP leaders tried to storm the BJP headquarters, leaders of the saffron party visited Rajghat to highlight their demand against corrupt AAP leaders.
Kejriwal adopted a combative posture after Singh’s arrest and claimed that the action against them was a sign of Modi’s panic after seeing the success of the Opposition’s INDIA alliance.
Faced with the scenario of its image getting tarnished due to Singh’s arrest, the AAP has also hit back at the BJP and called Narendra Modi the most corrupt Prime Minister in the country.
“They have levelled several allegations of corruption against us but have failed to prove even a single charge,” said Kejriwal.
“Many more leaders of our party are likely to be arrested in the run-up to the 2024 elections but we are not going to be threatened or silenced,” Kejriwal said, indirectly referring to the CBI PE against him and the increasing chances of his arrest in the coming weeks.
Political analysts claim that if ever Kejriwal gets arrested it will hit the AAP hard as he is the face of the party that has emerged from Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign of 2011. “AAP is not a cadre-based party and if Kejriwal is forced out of action, the party may be left rudderless,” said an analyst.
Just before being arrested by the ED, Singh released a video claiming that he was victimised for filing complaints with the probe agency to investigate corruption involving Modi and companies owned by business tycoon Gautam Adani. “I am ready to lay down my life but would never bow before them” said Singh in his last video message before his arrest.
As expected, Singh’s arrest kicked up a storm of verbal attacks between the AAP and the BJP. Northeast Delhi’s MP and former Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari said Singh’s arrest has saved millions of teenagers from becoming alcoholics. “AAP leaders were planning to lower the age of consuming liquor in Delhi but their arrests have saved the youth from this,” he said.
RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav described Singh’s arrest as an example of misuse of probe agencies government. “Whenever regional parties are trying to raise their voice against injustice, these are being threatened,” he said, extending support to the AAP’s fight against Modi.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also described the ED action as a misuse of probe agencies. “All opposition parties are mentally prepared to face such vendetta,” he said.
While the BJP is hoping that the action against “corrupt” AAP leaders will negatively impact the latter’s electoral prospects, an AAP legislator said such dirty tricks by the Modi government will prove counter-productive for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. “The arrest of Sanjay Singh and harassment of Kejriwal will generate sympathy among voters and multiply support for the AAP,” he said.
Delhi Congress chief Arvinder Singh Lovely took the middle path by supporting all genuine probes and actions against the corrupt but also cautioned against the misuse of probe agencies to settle political scores.
The AAP and the Congress are coalition partners at the national level Opposition bloc called INDIA. However, the recent arrest of a Punjab Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira by the police in a drugs case in a state headed by AAP leader and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann have soured the relations between the two parties.